Sharansky Presents Western Wall Plan to Knesset Committee

— by Joshua Berkman

While Israelis were preparing for Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), marking the unification of the city and renewed Jewish access to the Western Wall, Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky met last Tuesday with the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, where he presented an outline of his plan to create a section for egalitarian prayer in the southern part of the Kotel (Western Wall).

More after the jump.
Mr. Sharansky addressed the committee:

Every Jew in the world has a unique relationship with the Kotel. There is no other place in the world that fulfills such a role in the life, history, and identity of any nation. It is naturally in our interest for every Jew to express his or her own connection as he or she sees fit. Ultimately, the solution will not come through court rulings or legislation, but rather through a broad agreement between all segments of the Jewish people.

Sharansky then laid out the details for an egalitarian prayer area that would be equal in size to the current prayer area, open around the clock, and accessible via a single, shared entrance, along with the current men’s and women’s sections. “Every Jew will enter the Kotel area through a single entryway and will then decide whether to pray in a traditional Orthodox manner or in a non-Orthodox manner,” he said. Sharansky also noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted the plan in principle.

I had a very impressive meeting with Reform and Conservative leaders, with representatives of the Orthodox Union, of Agudath Israel, of Chabad, of Modern Orthodox organizations, in which all said they would be willing to accept this solution.

With regards to implementation of the plan, Sharansky noted that certain archaeological elements would have to be resolved, but suggested that construction could begin within one month, an initial stage could be completed within 10 months, and the entire plan could be actualized within two years. The government has insisted on covering all costs, he said.

Members of Knesset from across the political spectrum hailed Sharansky’s plan, promising support for its implementation. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who serves as Rabbi of the Western Wall and of the Holy Sites of Israel, acknowledged that he has some reservations about the plan, but said that the fact that no one is entirely satisfied by it could be an indication that it is the correct solution. Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Reform Movement, Rabbi Andrew Sacks of the Conservative Movement, and Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall all expressed support for Mr. Sharansky’s efforts.

Committee Chairwoman MK Dr. Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) summarized the discussion by reminding those in attendance that “we must never forget the Kotel’s place in the heart of the Jewish people,” and by telling Mr. Sharansky that “we are here for you and will extend any and all assistance in bringing your plan to fruition.”

“I share both the hopes and the concerns expressed today,” Sharansky concluded.

If we wish to reach a significant compromise, we will have to take unconventional steps. We must listen to one another and treat one another with respect, otherwise none of this will be possible.

Interview: the Show That Proves That Women are Funny

— by Lisa Grunberger

I had the opportunity to interview Jennifer Childs, Artistic Director of 1812 Productions, Philadelphia’s All Comedy Theatre Company, about her new comedy, which she wrote and directed, It’s My Party: The Women and Comedy Project. It’s My Party began in 2010 with two questions: how do women use comedy and how does the usage change as they age. Through collage, cabaret, and stand-up Childs investigates gender stereotypes that lock women into certain roles, such as the ditz, the vamp, and the old maid.  

In some ways, the play responds to Christopher Hitchens’ provocative comment in a Vanity Fair article years ago, claiming that women aren’t funny. The first act of this compelling show had the audience laughing on the opening night last Wedensday. The all-woman ensemble includes comedic veterans of the Philadelphia theatre. The play incorporates original and devised music by the cast and the musical director Monica Stephenson, and features a set by 1812 Productions’ designer Lance Kniskern.

Full interview after the jump.

It’s My Party: The Women and Comedy Project
Playing at: Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St.
Through: Sunday, May 19.
Tickets: $22 to $38.
Information: 215-592-9560 or 1812 Productions’ website.

Q: Tell me how The Women and Comedy Project came about? What was your process? There are African-American Women, white women, an Asian woman, and a diverse age-range. No Latinas and or Jewish women — how did you make casting decisions and were questions of ethnicity important in your thought process?

JC: I interviewed over 100 women all along the East coast, pulling together anecdotes, stories and personal experiences. I wanted it to be racially and age diverse, but I was more interested in exploring the brains, heart and sous of these women. It would have become a different show if there was one woman representative of each “flavor” or ethnic background.  

Q: How did you arrive at the three act structure of the play?

JC: I could have written a linear 90 minute script, but I gave myself permission to stretch the form and it was very liberating.

Q: Can you briefly describe each act and what you had in mind?

JC: The first act, which I call ‘The Lecture,’ represents the youngest age, say women in their 20s who I found use humor to gain attention. It’s an age when you don’t have your own voice and you use stereotypes and imitations to find your comedic voice.  

The second Act, called ‘The Ritual,’ represents women in their 30s and 40s, when women discover that comedy can save your soul. You can use humor as a weapon to fight and survive.

Q: This is where we hear the women sharing their stories. Were these stories autobiographical or were they a composite or synthesis of the many interviews you did?

JC: They were the actresses’ own stories, that we had “workshopped.”

Q: In the second act, we hear one of the characters tell a story about learning she has breast cancer, which her mother had died of. Was this the actress’s own story, and couldn’t this be seen as potentially not funny? Or as simply “empowering” and therapeutic to share but not necessarily art or theatrically interesting?

JC: It is her own story, and I’m surprised that that’s confusing to people. I was reading about the comedienne Tig Notaro and how she was diagnosed with cancer right after her mom died, and she was so funny. It’s about owning what happens to you and not apologizing for it, and that can be funny.

Q: Tell me about the third act of the play.

JC: The third act, called ‘The Rave,’ is about the oldest age, women in their 70s, and it’s about being audacious. In naming it “the rave” I’m referencing the rave dances, but also the association with stark raving mad and the rave as a rant. By this age, women don’t care anymore. If you want to wear polka-dots, stripes and mismatched shoes, so be it. My daughter is 9 and my mother is in her 70s, and I see similarities in their not caring about what other people think.

Q: How, if at all, do you think about audience?

JC: Comedy is about audience. I think it is extremely important to connect with the audience, which I think of as the last character in the play. The show isn’t finished until there is laughter. Only then is the rhythm complete. I mean, if a joke is told in a forest and no one is there to hear it, is it funny?

Q: One of the characters says “I’m too radiant for irony.” What did you learn during your interviews about women, humor and irony, and how did this get translated into the show?

JC: I was surprised that no woman I interviewed thought she was funny. When I asked them to sing a rap I had written during the auditions — and this was a rap about being smart and beautiful and sexy — the women were tentative. Some feared that people will not like them if they sing a song like this. But this is exactly what the play is exploring — I want women to take ownership of their own goofiness. To find a way to say “this is what I want.”

Q: The danger is sounding too sincere or sentimental in this approach, right? Too much like Jack Handy’s “deep thoughts.”

JC: It’s a fine line. More and more people employ irony and cynical humor on the stage, but it’s the death of theatre if we presume that you can’t be hurt, that there’s no vulnerability. Part of comedy is precisely this threat of being vulnerable. I see sincerity and openness as being a lot braver than coming up with snarky comments. it was important to me to create something that felt honest and honored the interviewees’ stories.

State Republican Leaders Use Anti-Semitic And Mysogynic Slurs

Oklahoma Republican Leader Mispeaks Anti-Semitic Slur

On Wednesday, Oklahoma State House Majority Leader Dennis Johnson used the phrase “try to Jew me down” on the House floor. He offered an apology afterward that reportedly included the line “Jews run good small businesses, too.” The Tulsa World reported:

In debating in favor of a bill that would repeal a 70-year-old ban on “loss-leader” selling, Johnson, a small business owner, said service and not price were the key to success.

He then acknowledged that some customers “try to Jew me down.”

Johnson, R-Duncan — who, with Rep. Fred Jordan, R-Jenks, is the third-ranking member of the majority leadership — immediately apologized, adding that “Jews run good small businesses, too.”

“Jew down” is a slang term for haggling and is generally considered derogatory.

New Hampshire Republican Uses “Vagina” As Synonym For “Woman”

According to the Concord Monitor:

Rep. Peter Hansen, an Amherst Republican serving his second term, wrote in an April 1 email to the all-House email list that “children and vagina’s” were missing from a fellow representative’s anecdotes during the debate over whether to repeal New Hampshire’s 2011 “stand your ground” law.

The email was posted Monday on a liberal blog, and Hansen’s remark was condemned yesterday by NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire.

“We are shocked and disgusted by this derogatory comment,” said Policy and Community Relations Director Sara Persechino in a news release. “Rep. Peter Hansen was elected to represent the citizens of his district and this state; referring to women as ‘vaginas’ is not in line with New Hampshire’s value of equality for all.”

Hansen said yesterday his comment was being taken out of context.

It boggles the mind to imagine that there is any conceivable “context” in which it would be vaguely appropriate to refer to a woman as a “vagina”. Perhaps the “honorable penis” from Amherst, New Hampshire should apologize to his colleagues, his constituents and all Americans who were shocked by his mysogyny.

Meanwhile in Michigan, Democratic legislators are forbidden to use the word “vagina” to refer to actual vaginae. Details after the jump.
Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown gets censured after talking about Kosher dishes and her vagina

Last year Michigan was considering a Republican supported bill requiring an invasive transvaginal ultrasound be placed in a woman so that she could see her fetus before an abortion could be legally obtained.

State Representative Lisa Brown (D-Commerce Township & West Bloomfield Township) spoke passionately against the bill and was censured by the Speaker for using the word “vagina.” She and Rep. Barb Byrum (D_Onondaga), who proposed a bill banning vasectomies, were both barred from speaking for the remainder of the session.

I’m Jewish. I keep kosher in my home. I have two sets of dishes. One for meat and one for dairy, and another two sets of dishes on top of that for Passover. Judaism believes that therapeutic abortions, namely abortions performed in order to preserve the life of the mother are not only permissable but mandatory. The stage of pregnancy does not matter. Wherever there is a question of the life of the mother or that of the unborn child, Jewish law rules in favor of preserving the life of the mother. The status of the fetus as human life does not equal that of the mother. I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs. Why are you asking me to adopt yours?

Finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’

If you’re regulating vaginas, I don’t know how we’re supposed to not talk about them.

According to the New York Daily News:

Brown defended her right to say “vagina” at a press conference Thursday, arguing that it’s the “anatomically, medically correct term.

“If I can’t say the word vagina, why are we legislating vaginas?” Brown asked. “What language should I use?”

Women’s Leadership Network Letter: Take Action Now on VAWA

— by Ann F. Lewis and Barbara Goldberg Goldman

Reports are circulating that the House of Representatives will be voting on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as early as tomorrow. VAWA provides crucial protections to victims of domestic violence and there is no excuse for not reauthorizing this important bill.

Since it was first introduced in 1994 by then-Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), VAWA had been repeatedly reauthorized with strong bipartisan support — until last year, when Republicans blocked reauthorization because it expanded protections to same sex couples, Native Americans living on tribal reservations, and undocumented immigrants.

When the Senate voted this year to reauthorize VAWA, it received more Republican “no” votes that it did last year — including from 22 male Republicans. Unfortunately, Congressional Republicans have demonstrated that even protections from domestic violence are not exempted from their subservience to the right wing of their party.

Domestic violence is a sad reality for too many women — we cannot afford to let VAWA fail in the House!

As the co-founders of NJDC’s Women’s Leadership Network, we urge you to take action now by calling your Representative and encouraging them to pass the Senate’s version of VAWA.

Too many women are counting on VAWA for us to be silent.

All Jewish Congresswomen Join NJDC’s Women’s Leadership Network

Senators Barbara Boxer (left) and Diane Feinstein (right).

The National Jewish Democratic Council’s (NJDC) newly-launched Women’s Leadership Network (WLN) proudly announced today that all Jewish Democratic women in the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as former Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), have signed on as Honorary Co-Chairs of the new group. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said:

I am thrilled to be an honorary co-chair of the NJDC’s new Women’s Leadership Network — an opportunity for us to stand up as women, as Jews, and as Democrats for the priorities we share. From safeguarding our civil and reproductive freedoms, to strengthening our health and social safety net, to ending preventable gun violence, and bolstering support for the U.S.-Israel relationship, NJDC’s WLN will serve as a valuable resource and powerful voice on the issues that matter to our community.

More after the jump.
Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) added:

NJDC’s Women’s Leadership Network will mobilize Jewish American women to support strong Democratic candidates and will ensure that all female Jewish Democrats have a voice at the table. It is critical that NJDC’s Women’s Leadership Network raises the concerns of Jewish Democratic women and helps them influence the outcomes of national and international issues.

Women’s Leadership Network Co-Founders Ann Lewis and Barbara Goldberg Goldman stated:

We are so honored that all of the Jewish women serving in the House and Senate, as well as former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, have signed on as Honorary Co-Chairs of the Women’s Leadership Network. We look forward to working with our Honorary Co-Chairs as we fight to maintain and expand women’s rights and protect the future for our children, grandchildren, and future generations.

WLN’s full line-up of Honorary Co-Chairs includes:

  • Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
  • Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA)
  • Representative Susan Davis (D-CA)
  • Representative Lois Frankel (D-FL)
  • Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY)
  • Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
  • Representative Allyson Schwartz (D-PA)
  • Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)
  • Former Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)

Jewish Democratic Women Urge Grassroots Action On Gun Control

— by David Streeter

The Women’s Leadership Network of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) urged NJDC’s members to call their members of Congress and urge “bold” and “courageous” actions to pass gun control legislation and end the epidemic of gun violence. The Network’s co-founder Barbara Goldberg Goldman said:

Last week, NJDC’s good friend former Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to be ‘bold’ and ‘courageous’ to stop the epidemic of gun violence in America. Today, we urge American Jews to echo Gabby’s powerful call to action and urge their Senators and Representatives to support efforts to reduce gun violence. Jewish tradition teaches that we must pass along a better world to our children and grandchildren, and one way to do that is by taking steps to prevent the next Sandy Hook, Aurora, Tucson, or Columbine tragedy.

NJDC action alert and a video from the Daily Show follow the jump.

Co-founder Ann F. Lewis added:

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) need our voices on this critical issue in order to rally Congress behind their policies. We must add our voices to the growing chorus calling for action. Now is the time to act, before more innocent children are slain.

Below is the text of the action alert that NJDC sent to its membership:

Subject: Join with Gabby
From: Ann F. Lewis and Barbara Goldberg Goldman

Dear NJDC Supporter,

In January, President Barack Obama took a number of actions to combat “the epidemic of gun violence in this country” that has claimed far too many innocent and precious lives. When the President addressed the nation, he made clear that “if there is even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.” The Senate Judiciary Committee picked up on his call and convened its own hearing to address gun violence, and our dear friend former Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) — who was tragically wounded in a mass shooting — delivered this powerful message to the committee:

This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats, and Republicans. Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important.

Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something.

It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.

As the co-founders of NJDC’s Women’s Leadership Network, we urge you to echo Gabby’s words by telling your Senators to be courageous by supporting measures to reduce gun violence and protect our children. Call you Senators and Representative today and urge them to:

  • Support universal background checks for gun purchases;
  • Improve access to mental health services for all Americans;*
  • Support the assault weapons ban introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA); and
  • Use their voice and their vote to protect America’s children.

Jewish tradition teaches that we must pass along a better world to our children and grandchildren, and one way to do that is by taking steps to prevent the next Sandy Hook, Aurora, Tucson, or Columbine tragedy. With your help, our Senators will know that American Jews are firmly supportive of efforts to end the epidemic of gun violence and make America’s cities, towns, and neighborhoods safer for everyone.


Ann F. Lewis and Barbara Goldberg Goldman

Allowing Women To Choose

— by Rabbi Avi Shafran

Well-informed, they say, is well-prepared; and knowledge is power. An exception, though — at least in the judgment of some — seems to be when Jewish women in Israel are contemplating ending their pregnancies.

When an Israeli magazine announced it would bestow an award on a group called Efrat, “pro-choice” advocates (seldom have “scare quotes” been so appropriate) howled in outrage.

Efrat provides women with information about abortion, as well as financial support for mothers-to-be who are under economic pressure to terminate their pregnancies. The group’s detractors characterize it as preying on women at an emotionally vulnerable time.

More after the jump.
Efrat, however, does not parade with offensive placards in front of medical facilities like some American groups. Nor does it seek to shame women in any way. Its goal is simply to advance “a woman’s right to free choice,” by providing expectant women who want it with accurate information about medical matters and the development of the lives growing within them; it also offers needy such women who choose to carry their pregnancies to term things like food packages, cribs and strollers. The group claims that, since its founding in 1977, 50,000 babies were born as a result of its work.

Strangely enough, that is precisely part of what irks some of the group’s critics. “They’re using the woman for demographics,” complained a protest organizer, Tzaphira Allison Stern, mixing pregnancy with politics. “Why shouldn’t a woman have an abortion?” she asks rhetorically in Efrat’s name. “Because we need the baby so there are more Jews, and so there are more Israeli soldiers, so we can defend the land and continue the occupation.”

Ms. Stern is also piqued by her assumption that “the organization works only with Jewish women, rather than with Arab, Druse or Christian women, which illustrates that they care only about politics and not about women’s health.” Like many Jewish charities, Efrat indeed focuses on the Jewish community, but it is in fact open to any woman from any background.

Denigrators of Efrat condemn it, too, for what they allege was the group’s role in the death of a young man this past October. Stopped by police after a traffic accident, the distraught man pulled a gun and threatened to kill his pregnant girlfriend, prompting police to shoot him.  He died of a wound to the head, and the tragedy, schlepped along a convoluted path, was laid at Efrat’s door. Critics claimed that an Efrat employee had convinced the young woman to carry her child to term, which agitated the young man, and hence that the group was responsible for his fate (“death by counseling of another person” presumably). As it happens, Efrat insists that it has no record of any interaction at all with the young woman.

When Israel’s two chief rabbis came out in support of Efrat, the opposition grew even more heated, even though Ashkenazi chief Rabbi Yona Metzger made clear that when he opposes termination of pregnancies he is “not talking about a pregnant woman who has psychological, medical or familial reasons” for considering such a move, but rather women who do so “due to financial considerations,” which, he explains, is “where Efrat comes in.”

The activists, nonetheless, were only further activated. “This is another step in the radicalization of religious figures,” declared Hedva Eyal, who runs an abortion hotline in Haifa, “and is part of the discrimination against women that we are witnessing… with respect to their decisions over their own lives and health.”

Left unexplained is how allowing women to make fully informed decisions about babies they are carrying — yes, babies; Israel permits abortions even into the third trimester of pregnancy — is discriminatory. An equally over-activated Nurit Tsur, the former executive director of the Israel Women’s Network, scoffed that “the Chief Rabbinate… has been infiltrated by haredi elements,” as if any authentic Jewish approach condones abortion for financial considerations.

There are many issues where contemporary mores stand in stark contrast with truly Jewish values. But both the modern mindset and the authentic Jewish one are in agreement that important decisions should be made with as much pertinent information in one’s possession as possible, and that limiting the acquisition of such information is wrong.

In cases of life and death — even when it may be only potential life that is at stake — the ideal of informed decision-making is paramount, at least in theory. In reality, it seems, some would force it to pay homage to some imagined “higher” feminist ideal, where women are somehow best served by being denied information.

© 2013 Rabbi Avi Shafran

“It’s All in the Angle” (Torah Temimah Publications), a collection of selected essays by Rabbi Shafran, is now available from Judaica Press.

NJDC Launches New Women’s Leadership Network

— by David Streeter

The National Jewish Democratic Council’s Women’s Leadership Network hosted a panel discussion for its first-ever event in Washington, DC. The panel was led by Representative Susan Davis (D-CA) and former White House Communications Director Ann F. Lewis, and featured nonpartisan political analysis from The Jerusalem Post’s Hilary Krieger. Representatives Lois Frankel (D-FL), Nita Lowey (D-NY), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) attended the luncheon and added their voices to discussion.

Washington Jewish Week reported on the event and featured coverage of the event in its weekly email to subscribers:

Full report after the jump.

Barbara Goldberg Goldman worked tirelessly to get President Barack Obama re-elected.

There wasn’t a moment unaccounted for last summer and fall. All her energies were focused towards November and election day. When this reporter tried at times to track her down, she was either knocking on yet another door in a Northern Virginia or Maryland neighborhood or making sure that recognized Jewish leaders were writing op-eds to release to the nation’s newspapers.

Last Friday, Goldberg Goldman along with other key national Democratic Jewish women, announced in Washington, D.C., the formation of the National Jewish Democratic Council’s (NJDC) Women’s Leadership Network.

‘The Women’s Leadership Network will ultimately build on NJDC’s previous success mobilizing Jewish Americans and augment NJDC’s mission of maximizing Jewish support for Democrats. I and other Women’s Leadership Network co-founders are very excited that NJDC has a new mechanism to mobilize female Democrats, and we look forward to starting a conversation in the Jewish community.’

Last Friday’s event featured a panel discussion on the issues facing women following the 2012 election. Rep. Susan Davis (D-Ca.) and Ann F. Lewis, NJDC Chairman’s Council member and former White House communications director, spoke as Democratic leaders in the Jewish community. The Jerusalem Post’s Washington bureau chief Hilary Krieger offered nonpartisan political analysis.

‘We heard a lot about the women’s vote making a difference in the 2012 election for Democratic candidates,’ said Lewis. ‘We have the same dynamic in the Jewish community, with a significant gender gap, reflective of important issues, but too often Jewish women’s voices were left out of the debate. NJDC’s voter contact program spoke to these issues and highlighted women’s voices. The NJDC Women’s Leadership Network will build on what we learned in 2012 and ensure that Jewish women’s voices are included in the next political campaign.’

Davis said that she was honored to have been a participant in this opening event.

‘It is critical that Jewish women mobilize across the country,’ she said. ‘In order to protect the progress made under President Barack Obama and to pave the way for more policies that advance women’s rights. NJDC’s Women’s Leadership Network is a significant step that will ensure that voices of female Jewish Democrats are heard.’

Prior to Friday’s event, both Goldberg Goldman and Lewis spoke to WJW.

‘There was a lot of attention in 2012 given to the women’s vote,’ Lewis told WJW. ‘The numbers showed us that women were more likely to vote for certain issues. So there was a similar dynamic within the Jewish community. The majority of Jewish voters are women. As part of NJDC, we watch the votes on issues concerning Israel and others such as equal pay for women and women’s health.

‘We’re learning from the 2012 election,’ she continued, ‘and we’re building on what we achieved. It’s important for women’s votes to be part of the national conversation. We want to raise the visibility and advocacy of women.’

Lewis added, ‘What we know is that women like to hear from other women. When we have a debate that doesn’t have women’s voices, we lose an opportunity to reach out to our community and to make our case. Once we start hearing from women, we get a much better response. We are encouraging women to be advocates and to understand the power we have as leaders in the community.’

Goldberg Goldman said that the group’s mission is to amplify the goals of Jewish Democrat women.

‘We’ve never been shy,’ she said. ‘We’re encouraging our colleagues and our sisters and our mothers and our nieces to speak out and to get involved and engaged in an organized fashion.’

Lewis also told WJW that the fiscal health of the nation is a matter of great importance to everyone, not just to men. Other issues important to Jewish women is the securing of a strong democratic Israel living side by side with a Palestinian state.

‘There isn’t one issue that doesn’t resonate among women,’ Lewis said.

Federally funded lunch programs, the special supplemental aid program for women, infants and children known as WIC is a Jewish women’s issue.

The area of women’s reproductive freedom is a Jewish women’s issue. Violence against women, again a Jewish women’s issue. Fiscal issues are also an issue for Jewish women as well. ‘It’s clear that we will have an active group of women for forums, fly-ins to Washington and access to members of Congress. Local and regional concerns are all important to Jewish women and women of all faiths.’

‘The last election illustrated the significance of the women’s vote not only in numbers but in helping to define the issues that were critically important, and those issues critically important for women, cannot be ignored. NJDC has the leadership to bring this together,’ said Lewis.

Don’t Push Me To The Back Of The Bus

In honor of International Human Rights Day, Hiddush released this short film to protest of gender segregation and discrimination against women in Israel. Israeli artists, Ben Ari, Hani Nahmias, Hila Feldman, Dalia Shimko, Einat Shroff, and Yossi, who volunteered for the film, are asking the public to send letters of protest to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling on him to act swiftly to combat gender discrimination on all fronts by ending state-funded gender segregated public transportation (in which women sit in the back of the bus) and by passing legislation that will levy heavy fines to deter those who intentionally discriminate against women in any way.

Examples of gender discrimination in Israel follow the jump.

  • Contrary to myths, gender separated bus lines do not operate only in solely Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities. They operate over the country in dozens of bus lines with thousands of passengers each day. In segregated lines, women are required to sit in the back of the bus.
  • The “Egged” bus company refuses to publish advertisements with pictures of women- and after public outcry, said they would eliminate men as well.
  • Deputy Health Minister Ya’akov Litzman declared that men don’t need to work — it’s enough that their wives work.
  • Haredi political parties running in the elections do not include women, and a Religious Zionist rabbi went as far as to issue a halachic (Jewish Law) edict banning women from running for a seat in the Knesset.
  • A sign was hung on a bomb shelter in Ashdod during Operation Pillar of Defense which forbade women from entering, as it was a shelter “for men and boys only.”
  • The Yehud Municipality replaced a statue of a woman with that of a man, bowing to pressures from religious residents who claimed the statue was “immodest”.

As Hiddush President Adv. Rabbi Uri Regev said

If we don’t stop the exclusion of women in the name of religion immediately, the current reality could be a glimpse of a future where things could be much worse, including further decline in dark policies. The 2012 Religion and State Index revealed that two-thirds of the public support turning the exclusion of women into a criminal offense. The time has come for the government to rise up and take action. In order for that to happen, we must put the issue on the agenda of Israel and of the international Jewish community.

Resounding Victory for Women

New Hampshire is the first state to have an all female delegation: Senator Kelly Ayotte (R, not pictured), Governor Elect Maggie Hassan D), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D), Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D) and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D).

Maggie Hassan will be the country’s only Democratic woman governor.

(TPM) Voters Tuesday elected a record number of women to Congress, thanks largely to gains on the Democratic side of the aisle.

In the Senate, where every incumbent Democrat won re-election, there will be a record 20 women Senators come January – a net gain of three. Women will also set a new record in the House of Representatives with 78 women elected – a number that could rise as a final handful of races are called.

In addition to the 12 Democratic women already in the Senate, Democrats will welcome newcomers Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin, Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota and Mazie Hirono from Hawaii. While two Republican women retired — Texas’s Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Maine’s Sen. Olympia Snowe — Republican Deb Fischer won in Nebraska.

The gains, of course, could have been even higher if not for a few losses. Democrat Shelley Berkley lost an uphill challenge to incumbent Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada. In Utah, Republicans had hoped Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love would become the first black, Republican woman elected to Congress. Love fell short in her challenge to incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson. In addition, both parties a few female incumbents in the House.

— by Sari Stevens and Audrey Ann Ross

HARRISBURG, PA – President Obama’s reelection is a historic victory for women’s health, driven by a substantial gender gap, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates and PAC said Wednesday morning.

“This is a resounding victory for women. More than ever before, women’s health was a decisive issue in this election. Americans on Tuesday voted to ensure that women will have access to affordable health care and be able to make their own medical decisions,” said executive director Sari Stevens.

“This election sends a powerful and unmistakable message to members of Congress and the Pennsylvania legislature that the American people do not want politicians to meddle in our personal medical decisions, and that politicians demean and dismiss women at their own peril.”

Women’s health issues played a defining role in the presidential election, with preliminary data showing candidates and advocates nationwide aired broadcast ads 46,141 times highlighting the issues — a 350% increase in spending from 2008. Throughout the campaign, these issues have presented one of the starkest contrasts between President Obama and Mitt Romney. Obama vowed to fully implement the Affordable Care Act and ensure that millions of women get preventive care at no cost, require insurance companies to cover birth control, protect funding for Planned Parenthood and federal family planning programs, and protect access to safe and legal abortion. Romney took the opposite position on all of these issues, and then tried unsuccessfully to cast himself as more of a moderate on women’s health in the final weeks of the campaign.

More after the jump.
In Pennsylvania, pro-choice candidates scored major victories with the stunning election of Rob Teplitz in the open seat of retiring Jeff Piccola, Steve Santarsiero’s crushing defeat of tea party challenger Anne Chapman, Matt Smith’s victory in the seat of retiring Senator John Pippy and Dave Levdansky’s defeat of far-right incumbent Rick Saccone in a moderate Western PA district.

In Senate District 15, Teplitz closed out the final two weeks of the race with a major TV ad buy highlighting opponent John McNally’s out of touch views on women’s health, specifically his opposition to legal abortion in cases of rape and incest. McNally went so far as to oppose sex education in public schools and protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation, positions highlighted in Planned Parenthood’s direct mail to a universe of 25,000 predominantly republican and independent women voters. “Rob trusts women to make their own health care decisions, and Rob won on Tuesday because voters want a strong advocate for women to represent them” said Stevens. Planned Parenthood PA PAC invested $50,000 in the Teplitz victory.

Representative Steve Santarsiero scored a resounding victory Tuesday night, proving once again that the voters of the 31st House District will not tolerate politicians with extreme, out of touch views on women’s health. His opponent, Anne Chapman, was the embodiment of that dangerous agenda. During the Republican primary, Chapman vowed to defund Planned Parenthood’s preventive health services – centering her campaign around limiting women’s access to health care and involving politicians in women’s personal health decisions. Chapman was so out of touch with the 31st district, she aligned herself with the Todd Akin view of women’s health through her opposition to legal abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Akin was another casualty of the Tuesday election, falling to Claire McCaskill after showing callous disregard for victims of rape.

A significant investment was also made on behalf of Matt Smith who was elected Tuesday night, demonstrating that Western Pennsylvania voters will not tolerate politicians with extreme, antiquated views on women’s healthcare.
In Senate District 37, the republican candidate, D. Raja, would have gone too far in interfering in personal health care decisions best left to a woman and her doctor – including support for an intrusive Pennsylvania mandatory ultrasound bill. Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania PAC communicated with a universe of 25,000 female voters about the out of touch views of Raja, and Matt Smith’s strong support for women’s reproductive health care.

Additional victories for women’s health were in the election of Democrat Sean Wiley in the retiring seat of Jane Earll in Senate District 49 and Mark Painter over anti-choice Tom Quigley in House District 146.

Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania PAC worked hard to educate voters across Pennsylvania about what was at stake in this race for women’s health. The PAC spent a record $250,000 on state races, with the biggest investments on behalf of Matt Smith in Senate District 37 and Rob Teplitz in Senate District 15. Over 250,000 pieces of mail, 80,000 phone calls and 10,000 door to door knocks were generated through months of efforts.

Nationally, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Vote’s spent more than $15 million dollars to educate voters in key battleground states, employing television and radio ads, direct mail, online ads, tele-townhalls, and a variety of other methods.

  • All of the messaging throughout the Planned Parenthood Action Fund campaign focused on Mitt Romney’s positions in his own words — to repeal the birth control insurance benefit, repeal coverage for preventive care, eliminate the nation’s family planning program, defund Planned Parenthood, and overturn Roe v. Wade – contrasted with President Obama’s strong record for women’s health.
  • Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Votes also invested in 20 Senate, Congressional, and gubernatorial races to elect candidates with strong records and positions on women’s health.  
  • In the final four days of the campaign, the Action Fund and local Planned Parenthood advocacy organizations collectively ran neighborhood canvasses in 22 states and phone banking operations in 24 states. In just these four days, the groups made more than 845,000 calls, knocked on more than 100,000 doors, and organized more than 2,000 volunteers in key states including Virginia, Ohio, Montana, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.

“Planned Parenthood Action Fund fought hard in this campaign to protect the programs and policies that millions of Americans, especially women, rely on to lead healthy lives,” Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates and PAC said. “We will focus on working with lawmakers at all levels, from all political parties, to ensure that millions more Americans can get the health care they need, while Planned Parenthood health centers provide the essential health care that one in five American women has relied on Planned Parenthood for at some point in their lives.”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its 74 affiliates nationwide are underscoring their commitment to helping women, men, and young people lead healthy lives with a new tagline “Care. No matter what.” The refreshed logo and new tagline, which went live earlier today on websites and social media properties, are part of Planned Parenthood’s ongoing effort to reach millions more patients with quality, affordable, confidential health care.

“As a trusted and essential provider of health care in every part of the country, Planned Parenthood stands ready to serve the millions of people who will soon have access to health care under the Affordable Care Act — to provide millions more with care, no matter what,” Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates and PAC said.